Content Is King

Why it's time to embrace content marketing


We've probably all heard this phrase ad nauseum by now: content is where advertising needs to focus minds and wallets. But before the marketing side of things, let's go back to content at its basic level: we can all agree that it's one of the top-three reasons we have Internet connections.

What has become nearly a buzzword in its equivocalness, “content” applies to everything from the snippets of information and images in the News Feed to the recommended long-reads in the newsletter you get in your inbox each Friday—not to mention that newsletter itself. Content is the reason people log on. This article is content (whoa, meta!). Audiences can now tailor their own content experience by selecting what shows up on their social feeds and building a 'read later' list as headlines catch their eye. But with the right analytics and distribution tools, publishers can get in front of reader habits by finding out where their ideal audience hangs out online, what's on their collective mind, and begin to strategize accordingly.

Think of the Internet in its nascence as your traditional, delivered-to-your-door Sunday newspaper: a pile of newsprint, bound and bundled into a singular news source. Once upon a time, people logged on and went to a website’s URL, clicked around the homepage little bit, and probably didn’t read much more beyond what that website had to say.

Then came social (dun dun dun), and a proliferation of different sites and blogs disbursing themselves all around the Internet. If you go on Twitter to see what’s happening at the Superbowl, you might also decide to follow a tweeted link to one commentator’s predictions on the outcome, then follow a link from that article to another publisher’s opinion, and finally end up on a piece on that site about the NBA. Audiences follow the path of their interest wherever it may go, arriving at websites through individual pieces of content far more often than a publication’s homepage.

That newspaper—and all the ‘newspapers’ out there—have been unbundled and streamlined. There’s an endless network of content out there now, and countless opportunities to guide eyes to it. It’s more important than ever that content creators optimize their distribution strategies and create as many access points to their content for interested audiences as possible.

To reflect on how these platforms and technologies evolved to satisfy hunger for content, let's take it back to the first person to coin the phrase: the OG, Bill Gates, ca. 1996. Even then, when this new-fangled invention called the Internet was in its larval stages, Gates foresaw some of what lay ahead:

The Internet also allows information to be distributed worldwide at basically zero marginal cost to the publisher. Opportunities are remarkable, and many companies are laying plans to create content for the Internet. [...]

If people are to be expected to put up with turning on a computer to read a screen, they must be rewarded with deep and extremely up-to-date information that they can explore at will. They need to have audio, and possibly video. They need an opportunity for personal involvement that goes far beyond that offered through the letters-to-the-editor pages of print magazines.[...]

Advertisers are always a little reluctant about a new medium, and the Internet is certainly new and different.

Some reluctance on the part of advertisers may be justified, because many Internet users are less-than-thrilled about seeing advertising.

Now that we're past the days when getting a computer turned on and online was an actual chore and video was a quaint possibility, some things remain true: companies have seized on the opportunities that lie in developing digitally-specific content strategies; user interaction is part and parcel of nearly any piece of content (comment sections, anyone?); and, perhaps most perceptively, users grow exasperated with ad bombardment.

Among the basic facts of life that the Internet is altering—besides the little things, like the survival of cable networks and finding your soulmate—is audiences’ responses to advertising. As users began to spend large chunks of their days online, more and more of their time became an occasion for advertising than when options were limited to primetime television and highway billboards. Users got savvy to traditional display ads, making it less likely that they'll click through. Now audiences expect advertising, in and of itself, to have purpose: interesting information, valuable advice, or a few minutes of entertainment. Old methods of advertising are simply no longer enough to engage audiences.

This is why companies began to invest heavily in social media, venture into blogging, and create a tidal wave of video ads. Quality content marketing—a combination of strong brand and editorial strategies—gives audiences value before they ever become customers. You can present yourself as an expert in your space, create trust with potential customers, comprehensively impart your brand persona, position, and voice, and moreover, elicit an emotional response to instill affinity. Content gives brands an opportunity to build a consumer base by promoting themselves in their audiences’ natural online environments, giving customers the sense that they came upon new products organically.

One thing that Gates didn't include in his premonitions: the dominance of social media and mobile, which built an entirely new access point to content via sharing and in-network interaction. And now that everyone carries the Internet in their pocket via smartphone and tablet, even more entries—and advertising moments—exist. Rather than finding quality content through the “front door” (i.e., a site's front page), a series of side doors, basement doors, and large windows are being added. Brands and publishers need to pay attention to that construction to adapt accordingly, honing their social media personas and building mobile sites and strategies.

So, how does creating all this content and getting eyes on it affect your bottom line? For publishers, it creates a number of important metrics beyond uniques that can inform how well their content strategies are working: how long are people actually staying on the page once they click through on each piece of content? How many are compelled to share it with their social networks, and how many people within those networks think the link is something worth clicking through? How do these metrics look once you drill down on individual verticals or authors?

Meanwhile, for brands, content analytics is a valuable tool for getting to know your audience so you can turn them from readers into customers, a question of conversions. This not only requires content strategy, but a distribution strategy to get your content in the right context in front of the right eyeballs, at the right time. All you need are the right set of tools to make your content work for you, and prove its own value.

Maybe we should be saying “Content is President” instead. It's clearly been appointed by popular vote.